The success of Instant Messaging (IM) is a fascinating story. IM establishes a valuable connectivity fabric to people's work and lifestyle. While the average user today relies on IM for simple text messaging ("chat"), the technology continues to evolve into a rich communication platform as vendors add audio, video and conferencing features.
Within the enterprise, the real transformational impact revolves around "presence" (often thought of as the buddy list). Strategists need to think of presence as real-time meta data that provides situational awareness when associated to application, content and collaboration components. Imagine search results not only returning a list of pages but also "presence" attributes associated with each page that might connect the user to the author, subject matter expert or any other relevant connection and whether that resource is "online". Imagine right-clicking on an application data element (account name) and dynamically seeing who is online that knows something about that account. There are a variety of solutions where presence can function as a critical connectivity mechanism.
So what's the problem?
First, for this type of progress to be made, standards need to exist. While the industry has basically agreed on SIP (Session Initialization Protocol), IM standards have fragmented between SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions, backed by Microsoft and IBM) and XMPP (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, driven by Jabber and other vendors).
Second, vendors have to be willing to work together around interoperability. It would be wonderful if a single standard (merged or otherwise) could be established, but minimally work should be underway that demonstrates actionable interoperability with a roadmap that provides the market with some expectation of eventual integration. Unfortunately, very little progress has been delivered in this area.
Third, IM is still an emergent technology within most enterprises. Vendors are more interested in market coverage and penetrating key accounts than pursuing interoperability and integration with competitive offerings.
At a recent conference, one vendor representative was quoted as saying "Interoperability is a matter of will, it's not complicated." I don't disagree. But I would suggest that the "will" is lacking. IM standards and interoperability scenarios are moving at a glacial pace. It’s unfortunate because interoperability will grow the overall market. Vendors hesitant to compete on the value of their solution will inevitably fail in the market.